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Healthy Balance

The 20-Week Ultrasound: More than Pink Cupcakes and Blue Drinks

For many expecting parents, week 20 is the best part of the pregnancy. That’s when they get an ultrasound that can reveal the baby’s sex. And if the baby cooperates — that is, gets in a position to give the sonographer a clear view — excited parents begin discussing names and sending registry links to family and friends.

Ultrasound image of fetus at 22 weeks
Prenatal ultrasounds look for heart problems and other birth defects.

Some come up with some creative ways to share the news.

“People talk about the reveal parties where they give the envelope to a family member and then they get a certain color cupcakes,” says Gay Longley, a sonographer at UVA.

Other examples UVA employees have heard:

  • The sonographer gives the parents an envelope with the baby’s sex inside. The parents go out to a restaurant to celebrate and give the envelope to the staff. They bring the father a blue drink if he’s having a boy and a pink drink for a girl.
  • The parents post a photo on Facebook with their older child holding a blue or pink stuffed animal.
  • The parents bring pictures of a boy and girl and a card and ask the sonographer to put the right picture in the card.
  • A woman whose husband is deployed asks the sonographer to write the baby’s sex in an envelope, which she and her husband open together after he gets home.

We asked our Facebook fans to share their stories:

  • “With our second child we brought our daughter with us to be a part of the surprise. It was neat to find out she would have a baby brother together as a family.”
  • “We found out we were having a boy at a perinatology appointment when we were there for a checkup of our little one’s heart. We called our grandparents and parents, texted a select few and the rest found out via Facebook status.”

Longley notes she still has patients who don’t want to know the sex. “There are a lot of people who still value that surprise on the day the baby’s born.”

The Real Reason for Ultrasounds

Longley always waits until the end of the appointment to tell patients the baby’s sex. “You lose the parents once you tell them that. They’re painting the room and picking out names and texting people.”

The mother’s excitement causes the baby to move around a lot, making it harder for the health care providers to get a good look.

“There’s a lot of work to be done in the scan besides finding out the sex,” adds Christian Chisholm, MD. “We’re assessing the health of the baby, the age of the baby and any potential issues that might exist with the pregnancy.”

Typically, a woman with a low-risk pregnancy gets an ultrasound around 12 weeks and again at 20 weeks.

During the 20-week ultrasound, health care providers look for:

  • Fluid in the stomach
  • Urine in the bladder
  • Healthy kidneys
  • Normal growth
  • Movement
  • A regular heartbeat and any signs of heart defects
  • Normal intracranial and facial anatomy

“A normal scan at that stage of the pregnancy provides the family with a very high level of reassurance,” Chisholm says.

Boy or girl? Did you find out your baby’s sex in advance, or was it a birth day surprise? Leave a comment to share your story.

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